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Published on February 4, 2020

The 16 Habits Of Mind That Make You Smarter

The 16 Habits Of Mind That Make You Smarter

In most learning situations, we see three elements at work:

We’re given objectives, we get instructed on how to achieve those objectives, and the learning stems from the results that we obtain.

Growing up, this was the learning structure that we had at the core, but there were many others that grew around that time. The only problem was they weren’t common practice and still aren’t.

I’ve covered others before through self-taught learning and deliberate practice. But one other I haven’t covered is habits of mind. These habits are powerful like most of non-traditional learning methods.

For this one, in particular, it can lead to great success and could change your life forever.

What Are “Habits of Mind”?

The habits themselves are nothing new or revolutionary. Developed by Art Costa and Bena Kallick, the two authors of Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Successbelieve these habits are less on behavior but more on intent.

The pair writes:

A “Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties–our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced through are more powerful, of higher quality and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors.

Another way to look at this is that the habits of mind push us to look at problems from different angles. Not only that, but it can be challenging to achieve this as successfully using these habits of mind requires skill, and experience.

So don’t think you’ll achieve mastery of these over a short period of time.

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The 16 Habits of Mind

But don’t get your hopes down because it’ll be challenging. As I said above, these habits are nothing complicated or new. Chances are you’ve got some of these habits.

The challenge is using those habits in a learning situation to develop yourself further. With that said, here is a rundown of the habits.

  1. Persisting
  2. Managing Impulsivity
  3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy
  4. Thinking Flexibly
  5. Thinking about Thinking
  6. Striving for Accuracy
  7. Questioning and Posing Problems
  8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
  9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity & Precision
  10. Gathering Data Through All Senses
  11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating
  12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe
  13. Taking Responsible Risks
  14. Finding Humor
  15. Thinking Interdependently
  16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

While knowing the habits is one thing, it’s another to apply them in a learning environment. Below are some examples of each of the habits of mind can be used.

1. Persisting

Persistence is all about not giving up and achieving whatever your goal is. Over the years, there have been several examples of this. When it comes to developing this skill, the best thing to do in this scenario is to pull from these examples.

How this helps with learning is that it encourages us to continue learning and working towards our goals.

2. Managing Impulsivity

Remember that habits of mind are designed to find problems that people wouldn’t find on the first go. This is key because whenever we see problems, we are quick to act on impulse. We don’t bother to think about other options.

This habit of mind helps us to hesitate, but only to consider other possible scenarios. In other words, you want to be practicing patience when coming up with solutions and deciding how to act.

How this helps in a learning situation is it pushes us to weigh our options when presented with a problem.

3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy

Many of us listen in order to reply rather than listen to understand and relate to the person. In conversations, we can find ourselves comparing, judging, placating or offering advice rather than listening and understanding a message.

To improve those skills, catch yourself whenever you do those sorts of things. This can also help in learning because when we are listening to understand, we have a deeper grasp of concepts, and the problems.

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4. Thinking Flexibly

We all have opinions and perspectives of reality and that bias seeps into everything that we see and what we read and learn. For this specific habit of mind, developing this requires us to look at things from a different angle.

That’s not to say to look at everything with skepticism, but rather to use a different perspective than our own or the original speakers. Place yourself in different shoes and walk around in them as they say.

How this applies to learning environments is that when we use different angles, there’s a deeper understanding. Knowing one side of a problem is good, but knowing where both parties are coming from is even better.

5. Metacognition

Otherwise known as thinking about thinking, developing this habit comes down to that. It’s important that you’re aware of your thinking process.

How you do that comes down to charting a map. A good example is drawing up a diagram of relationships. It’s a map that details the relationship between a want and a need as well as a gesture and a need to gesture.

6. Striving for Accuracy

This habit of mind is ensuring that what you are doing is accurate. How would you know if you’re doing it right without someone telling you it’s correct?

While you don’t want to be reliant on people’s opinions, it is still helpful to get others to check what you’re doing is proper and that you are making progress.

This is why it helps to have at least two or three people review your work before it moves on. Provided that reviewing is possible.

7. Questioning and Posing Problems

Learning stems from presenting problems and asking questions. For some generations, this is second nature as many aren’t afraid to go to google and figure things out. Developing this habit stems from this as well.

That or if you are in the middle of something, you could write questions down on post-it notes.

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8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Another part of the habits of mind is that these develop through experiences. These experiences can be recent or they can stem from the past. Recalling previous knowledge and applying it to new situations can have it’s merits.

By no means is it always the best solution on the table, but knowing what was done in the past can add a deeper understanding. Either way pulling from an area you’re already comfortable in can improve learning.

9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity & Precision

This one goes hand in hand with listening with understanding and empathy. The idea behind this habit of mind is to speak directly to people and avoid being vague, abstract or using imprecisions.

Examples of these words are always, all, everybody, celebrities, technology.

It’s not that using these words is bad or improper. Being able to speak directly and to think with a narrow focus helps in approaching a problem. Just because one piece of technology is faulty, doesn’t make all technology faulty. When addressing a problem and communicating, we need to focus on the specific point first.

10. Gathering Data Through All Senses

What this means is looking at various sources when it comes to learning. Of course, the quality of the source is important but pulling from sources like sensory data, blogs, and other third-party sources can have its merits.

11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating

Learning can be pulled from all kinds of different methods. It’s also good for you to be keeping the creative side of ourselves active as well seeing as it can provide opportunities for us to think of new solutions.

Similar to being flexible with our thinking, tapping into other regions that we may not excel in can help.

12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe

If you see learning as a chore, chances are you won’t be retaining any information. It’s important that we have a passion for the subject and that we’re eager to learn and indulge in the topic.

Responding with awe and wonderment is one of the side effects when we are interested in a topic.

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13. Taking Responsible Risks

For this habit of mind, this prioritizes how we see failure and when to take risks. It’s important to see failure as an improvement to grow rather than something to get punished for.

14. Finding Humor

Humor can bring things back to reality as we find all kinds of things funny. While what you are learning could be serious, tying it into stories that cause positive emotions will help in making it stick.

15. Thinking Interdependently

Today this is easier to achieve thanks in part to social media. Because we are all connected, it’s easy for us to connect our thoughts with other people. Every single day, more content is published and shared and consuming that can help us in this area.

16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

The last of the habits of mind is learning continuously. As the habit suggests, learning is constant and old ideas need to be revised. After all, we know how problematic it can be when methods or views are dated.

The world is on the move to growing and improving day after day — online and offline. It’s up to us to stay up to speed by developing ourselves too: How to Create a Habit of Continuous Learning for a Better You

Final Thoughts

The habits of mind focus heavily on our own experiences and skills in the world. The more we get out to experience life, the more that we will learn and hone these 16 skills.

By taking these skills to heart and applying them in learning, we can begin to change our lives as the knowledge we gain can be applied in many facets of our lives. The habits of mind are indeed the keys to our success and growth.

More on Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on May 26, 2020

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

Problems are, by their very nature, problematic. There are life problems, work problems, creative problems, and relationship problems. When we’re lucky, intuition takes over, and we solve a problem right away. When we’re not so lucky, we get stuck.

We might spend weeks or even months obsessing over how to write that term paper, get out of debt, or win back the love of our life. But instead of obsessing, let’s look at some effective problem solving techniques that people in the know rely on.

Ideation Vs Evaluation

It’s important to first understand and separate two stages of creativity before we look at effective problem solving techniques. Ideation is like brainstorming. It’s the stage of creativity where we’re looking for as many possible solutions as we can think of. There’s no judgment or evaluation of ideas at this stage. More is more.

After we’ve come up with as many solutions as possible, only then can we move onto the evaluation stage. This is when we analyze each possible solution and think about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s when all those good ideas from ideation rise to the top and the outlandish and impractical ones are abandoned.

7 Problem Solving Techniques That Work

Everyone has different ways of solving problems. Some are more creative, some are more organized. Some prefer to work on problems alone, others with a group. Check out the problem solving techniques below and find one that works for you.

1. Lean on Your Squad

The first of our seven problem solving techniques is to surround yourself with people you trust. Sometimes problems can be solved alone, but other times, you need some help.

There’s a concept called emergence that begins to explain why groups may be better for certain kinds of problem solving. Steven Johnson describes emergence as bottom up system organization.[1] My favorite example is an ant colony. Ants don’t have a president or boss telling them what to do. Instead, the complicated organization of the ant colony comes out of each individual ant just fulfilling their biological destiny.

Group creativity can also take on an emergent quality. When individuals really listen to, support, and add onto each other’s ideas, the sum of that group creativity can be much more than what any individual could have created on their own.

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Therefore, if you are struggling to solve a problem, you may want to find a group of people with whom you can collaborate, so you can start riffing with them about possible solutions.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

The next of the problem solving techniques is to be honest about how you’re feeling. We can’t solve problems as efficiently when we’re stressed out or upset, so starting with some emotional self-awareness goes a long way in helping us problem solve.

Dr. Daniel Siegel famously tells us to “Name it to tame it.” [2] He’s talking about naming our feelings, which offers us a better chance of regulating ourselves. I have to know that I’m stressed or upset if I want to calm down quickly in order to get back to a more optimal problem-solving state.

After you know how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate that feeling. If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, you can take a walk or try breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can also help you regain your sense of presence.

3. Listen

One thing that good problem solvers do is listen. They collect all the information they can and process it carefully before even attempting to solve the problem.

It’s tempting to jump right in and start problem solving before the scope of the problem is clear. But that’s a mistake.

Smart problem solvers listen carefully in order to get as many points of view and perspectives as possible. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the problem, which gives them a huge advantage in solving that problem.

4. Don’t Label Ideas as Bad…Yet

The fourth of the seven problem solving techniques is to gather as many possible solutions as you can. There are no bad ideas…yet.

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Think back to the two stages of creativity. When we are in the ideation stage, we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas, input, and possible solutions.

When we evaluate, judge, and criticize during the ideation stage, we inadvertently hamper creativity. One possible outcome of evaluating during ideation is creative suppression.[3]

When someone responds to someone else’s creative input with judgment or criticism, creative suppression can occur if the person who had the idea shuts down because of that judgment or criticism.

Imagine you’re at a meeting brainstorming ways to boost your sales numbers. You suggest hiring a new team member, but your colleague rolls their eyes and says that can’t happen since the numbers are already down.

Now, your colleague may be 100% correct. However, their comment might make you shut down for the rest of the meeting, which means your team won’t be getting any more possible solutions from you.

If your colleague had waited to evaluate the merits of your idea until after the brainstorming session, your team could have come up with more possible solutions to their current problem.

During the ideation stage, more is more. We want as many ideas as possible, so reserve the evaluation until there’s no more ideating left to do.

Another trick for better ideating is to “Yes And” each other’s ideas[4] In improvisation, there’s a principle known as “Yes And.” It means that one improviser should agree with the other’s idea for the scene and then add a new detail onto that reality.

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For example, if someone says, “I can’t hear over your loud music,” the other person needs to go along with that idea and then add onto it. They might say, “Sorry, I’ll turn it down, but I don’t think everyone else here at the club will appreciate it.”

Now the scene is getting interesting. We’re in a club, and the DJ is going to turn the music down. Playing “Yes And” with each other made the scene better by filling in details about who and where the improvisers are.

Yes Anding also works well during ideation sessions. Since we’ve already established that we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas yet, Yes Anding gives us something we can do. We can see the merits of each other’s ideas and try to build on them. This will make all of our possible solutions more fully realized than a simple laundry list.

5. Approach Problems With Playfulness

Approaching problem solving too seriously can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes we get too fixated on finding solutions and lose a sense of playfulness and fun.

It makes sense. When there are deadlines and people counting on us, we can try to force solutions, but stepping back and approaching problems from a more playful perspective can lead to more innovative solutions.

Think about how children approach problem solving. They don’t have the wealth of wisdom that decades on this planet give. Instead, they play around and try out imaginative and sometimes unpractical approaches.

That’s great for problem solving. Instead of limiting ourselves to how things have always been done, a sense of play and playfulness can lead us to truly innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Let the Unconscious Mind Roam

This may seem counterintuitive, but another technique to try when you become too fixated on a problem is to take a break to let the unconscious mind take over for a bit.

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Our conscious brain can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. Plus, it’s energetically exhausting to use our conscious brain for problem solving. Think about a time when you were studying for a test. It’s draining.[5]

But we’re in luck. There’s another part of our brain that isn’t draining and can integrate tons more information at a time—our unconscious.

This is why you come up with your best ideas in the shower or on your way to work or while you’re jogging. When you give your conscious brain a break, your unconscious has a chance to sift through mounds of information to arrive at solutions.

It’s how I write my articles. With my conscious brain, I think about which article I’m going to write. My problem is how to write it, so once I think carefully about the topic, I take a break. Then, the structure, sources, content, and sometimes phrasing happens in fits and starts while I’m not thinking about the article at all. It happens when I’m lying in bed, showering, and walking in the woods.

The key is to get in the habit of practicing this alternation between conscious and unconscious problem solving and to absolutely not force solutions. Sometimes, you just need to take a little break.

7. Be Candid

The last of the problem solving techniques happens during the evaluation stage. If we’re going to land on the best possible solution to our problems, we have to be able to openly and honestly evaluate ideas.

During the evaluating stage, criticism and feedback need to be delivered honestly and respectfully. If an idea doesn’t work, that needs to be made clear. The goal is that everyone should care about and challenge each other. This creates an environment where people take risks and collaborate because they trust that everyone has their best interest in mind and isn’t going to pull any punches.

Final Thoughts

In order to come up with the best solutions for problems, ideation and evaluation have to be two distinct steps in the creative process. Then, you should tap into some of the above techniques to get your ideas organized and your problems solved.

Hopefully, these seven problem solving techniques will help your problems be less…problematic.

More Tips for Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Steven Johnson: Emergence
[2] Dr. Dan Siegel: The whole-brain child
[3] American Psychological Association: Creative mortification
[4] Play Your Way Sane: And What?: Yes And
[5] Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

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